During Bullying Awareness Month, a look at how school districts are tackling the problem
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Bullying statistics in U.S. schools are as much a cause for shame as a concern. One in five kids are bullied during their school years, and one in five admits to bullying others.
Verbal, social, and physical forms of bullying have prevailed for years, and they are still rampant across campuses. However, the advent of social media has amplified the problem. Now, bullies can hide behind a screen, encourage others to join in the bullying session anonymously and cause more harm.
While bullying prevention is an ongoing effort, this month is important because it sends a powerful message to all. School districts are running campaigns that touch all students, encouraging more self-reflection through powerful training.
They not only reflect upon their own experiences but also how they are treating others. Understanding that many of their peers may be suffering in silence and reaching out to them is a start.
We are aware of various mental health issues that stem from bullying. Bullying prevention groups have introduced a new conversation in the mix, one that encourages victims to come forward with their complaints and helps them go on with their lives.
Several nonprofit anti-bullying groups now work hand in hand with school districts to support young people who have suffered from bullying. Students are made aware of the different forms of bullying and how they can inadvertently become a part of a bullying session, especially via social media.
One way to stem the issue is to have individual students ask themselves the question: how much harm can one comment or social share of a negative post cause? Not standing up for someone can be construed as passive support as well. Some research indicates that standing up for a victim prevents bullying 60% of the time.
Students are also taught the difference between conflict and bullying so that they can approach the two situations differently. Parents are encouraged to reach the school directly if they are unsure of what they are witnessing. At the end of the day, it is a simple act of kindness can change someone’s life forever.
For example, Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin announced a new District Taskforce on Student Behavior and Bullying, which will identify issues and find solutions for them. Each situation is unique, and circumstances may differ across the school. A districtwide consolidated effort that takes individual cases into account is the best way to prevent bullying.
School districts are also tackling the issue of high student-to-counselor ratios. Data drawn from the U.S. Department of Education states that there are about 111,000 school counselors serving 50.59 million students. This means, on average, only one counselor for every 455 K-12 students, as the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has pointed out.
Bullying leads to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, which means victims need more comprehensive support. School counselors’ times are disproportionately charged with helping students through the college admissions process. They are stretched thin and are often unable to tackle the broader issues related to bullying and mental health.
The ASCA defined three buckets for counseling services that span academic counseling, career development, and social-emotional learning.
It is hard for one counselor to tackle all three domains equally and sufficiently. In recent years, the last area has become more critical than ever. Research indicates that unprecedented rates of mental health issues plague young people today. Only New Hampshire and Vermont now meet the recommended counselor-student ratio of 1:250. Clearly, we have a long way to go, and this month is crucial to affect those changes.
Districts like Georgia’s Cobb County are addressing this issue by creating and filling new positions this year for social-emotional learning specialists and is also integrating social-emotional development into the school agenda.
One of the largest public school districts in the nation, the Los Angeles Unified School District, is also actively addressing the social-emotional and mental health needs of students. It is partnering with nonprofits and tapping into local, state, and federal funding to achieve a ratio of 1:240.
This focus and investment in student support will go a long way to helping students with mental health disorders. The L.A. district is also mandating a professional development course for all teachers that speaks to handling social-emotional learning and trauma.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data found that nearly 15% of students reported being bullied online or via text, an almost four percentage-point increase from 2015. Female students were three times as likely to be bullied online than male students.
As bullying persists, school districts across the country are also looking to make reporting more comfortable and safer. They are investing in online reporting tools and other systems that empower students, staff, and parents to lead the charge anonymously without fear of retaliation or ridicule. These measures will ultimately give students a voice and create practical ways to stand up for each other and themselves.
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